Democrats concerned about this year's elections may be hoping the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada takes a politically fraught issue off the table.
An indefinite extension of the government's review of the contentious oil pipeline, announced on Friday by the State Department, almost certainly pushes a final decision past the November elections, keeping the project in a politically expedient holding pattern. But it is doing little to quell posturing over the project.
Republicans jumped at the chance to paint Democrats as powerless to rein in their own party's president. Keystone opponents were split, with some praising the delay and others chiding President Barack Obama for not vetoing it outright.
"It reinforces how ineffective, powerless and without influence senators like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Mark Warner and Kay Hagan are," said Brad Dayspring, of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, rattling off vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in November. "Why would people who disapprove of President Obama waste their votes supporting these Democrats?"
For Democrats competing in Republican-leaning states, winning those votes will require putting distance between themselves and Obama.
"I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project," said Democrat Begich.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some environmentalists were equally miffed, arguing that Obama should muster the courage to nix the project rather than hold out the prospect that he'll approve the pipeline.
"While we're at it, the State Department should also request that physics delay heat-trapping operations for a while, and that the El Nino scheduled for later this spring be pushed back to after the midterms," Bill McKibben, of the group 350 Action, said sarcastically.
Keystone XL would link up with existing pipelines to carry oil from western Canada's tar sands to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
The pipeline project has become a proxy for a larger battle pitting efforts to combat climate change against efforts to promote American energy. Proponents argue it will create thousands of jobs and reduce reliance on Mideast oil. But Obama and environmental groups dispute that. Environmentalists argue the pipeline would significantly increase carbon dioxide emissions, which are higher when producing oil from tar sands than for any conventional extraction methods.